13 This is the message the Lord spoke to Jeremiah the prophet about the coming of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to attack Egypt:
14 “Announce this in Egypt, and proclaim it in Migdol;
proclaim it also in Memphis and Tahpanhes:
‘Take your positions and get ready,
for the sword devours those around you.’
15 Why will your warriors be laid low?
They cannot stand, for the Lord will push them down.
16 They will stumble repeatedly;
they will fall over each other.
They will say, ‘Get up, let us go back
to our own people and our native lands,
away from the sword of the oppressor.’
17 There they will exclaim,
‘Pharaoh king of Egypt is only a loud noise;
he has missed his opportunity.’
18 “As surely as I live,” declares the King,
whose name is the Lord Almighty,
“one will come who is like Tabor among the mountains,
like Carmel by the sea.
19 Pack your belongings for exile,
you who live in Egypt,
for Memphis will be laid waste
and lie in ruins without inhabitant.
20 “Egypt is a beautiful heifer,
but a gadfly is coming
against her from the north.
21 The mercenaries in her ranks
are like fattened calves.
They too will turn and flee together,
they will not stand their ground,
for the day of disaster is coming upon them,
the time for them to be punished.
22 Egypt will hiss like a fleeing serpent
as the enemy advances in force;
they will come against her with axes,
like men who cut down trees.
23 They will chop down her forest,”
declares the Lord,
“dense though it be.
They are more numerous than locusts,
they cannot be counted.
24 Daughter Egypt will be put to shame,
given into the hands of the people of the north.”
(Jeremiah 46:13-24 NIV)
As we opened Chapter 46 in our last time together, we saw Egypt defeated at the battle of Carchemish. Today’s passage depicts Nebuchadnezzar attacking and overcoming Egypt proper (the entire country).
Similar to verses 3-4, verse 14 is a call to arms. This battle is no secret or surprise attack – the enemy (Babylon) is known and advancing on Egypt.
Verse 15 speaks about the warriors of Egypt being “laid low”, found face down in defeat. The warriors were often represented by the Egyptian god Apis, which was the sacred bull of fertility. So-called “priests” of this deity would be charged with caring for this sacred herd. But even this Egyptian god was no match for the Lord, who drove the “herd” of warriors away, both Egyptian troops and mercenaries (v. 16).
Verse 17 is a pun in the Hebrew text, with its object of derision being the Egyptian Pharoah Necho. In the pun, the Lord depicts Pharoah as a loud noise with bad timing and no power.
In verses 18 – 19, the Lord, the real King, speaks. He compares Babylon to Mount Tabor and Mount Carmel. Both of these two landmarks tower over their surrounding plains by over 1,500 feet – clearly an intimidating force. What is the Lord’s command to the people of Egypt and the citizens of the city of Memphis? Pack your bags and prepare for exile, just as the Judeans and the people of Jerusalem had to do. Ultimately, Egypt and Memphis will suffer the same fate as Judah and Jerusalem.
In verse 20, the Lord pronounces a judgment against the land of Egypt. The land is depicted as a heifer (a young female cow that has not yet had a calf). Babylon is portrayed as a gadfly, a large fly that bites people and animals and leaves a wound. Again, the warriors (depicted as bulls in verse 15) cannot protect their herd.
Verse 21 addresses the hired soldiers (mercenaries) enlisted by the Egyptians to fight against the Babylonians. Just like the Egyptian deities, these mercenaries (who have been well-paid and taken care of) will flee when the Babylonians show up.
Verses 22 – 23 depict Egypt as a hissing serpent hiding in the forest. The Babylonians are the woodcutters who are looking for the snake, so they don’t get bit by it. The forest is too dense to find the snake, so the woodcutters chop down the forest to find it. Even a forest (Egypt) is no challenge for the woodcutters (Babylon) when there are so many woodcutters (like a swarm of locusts).
Finally, Egypt is depicted as a daughter who has been brought to shame at the hands of the Babylonians. This language is very similar to 6:12 and 38:23, where the Lord said the wives and daughters of the families of Judah and Jerusalem would be carried off by the Babylonian warriors.
May we not be like Pharoah, a loud noise with bad timing and no power. Instead, may we be salt and light to the world around us, a blessing and not a curse.
May our strength and confidence be in God alone, and not in our defenses, our resources, or in false deities that are knocked over like toy soldiers.
Jesus is enough.